Alice Glass Shares Her Personal Evolution, Pressure as a Solo Artist and Finding Confidence in Not Defining Herself
Photography by Richie Davis
Hair and Makeup by Denisse Villavaso
Styling by Zoe Blue Arquette
In the great tradition of rock n roll legends, has gone to the desert to find herself. But you won’t find her in some hippy-dippy vegan commune or sound bath yurt—the electropunk [aka synthpunk] musician has relocated from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, CA, the land of boutique hotels, bespoke dispensaries, and drag brunches. As one of the 21st century’s preeminent goths, it wouldn’t seem like a first choice from an out- side perspective, but on the eve of the release of her debut album, Alice is thriving.
“I don’t go out that much, but I do get gawked at a lot,” says Alice of her new home, as we connect over Zoom (it’s midnight Pacific time; “she’s kind of a night owl,” explained Alice’s publicist upon scheduling). “I also have a big sun allergy, so yeah it doesn’t seem like it would make a lot of sense. But I’ve been living in Los Angeles for maybe a decade now, and I love the city but I just needed to kind of get out of there. Since I’m from Canada everything here just looks so alien to me. I just found out that there are only 140 species of trees in Canada, as a whole, and there are 2100 species of trees in California alone. I love all the bougainvillea and road- runners, mountains and things like that.” She chuckles. “It’s a beautiful place to come to die.”
OK, while she did indeed say that last part, and I would feel remiss if I didn’t point out that, beyond the spooky stereotypes, Alice actually comes off as a friendly, intellectual, even sweet. As someone who wit- nessed her comeuppance as the frontwoman of the duo Crystal Castles, her former band, the image I have in my brain of Alice is that of a rail thin wraith, absolutely assaulting the stage to the sound of crunchy, frenetic glitch punk, equally inspiring fear and awe in her audi- ence. While that image is correct, it’s nowhere near the full picture. Crystal Castles ended horrifically–– with Alice outing her former bandmate as an abuser, and without getting into the gory details, the situation is ongoing—and the shedding of that previous performer has given birth to a confident, liberated, take-no-prisoners solo artist.
“Human beings are complex, and I think getting into that world, I almost convinced myself that that person on stage was me,” says Alice of her early career. “Not that it wasn’t me, but it was the only thing that was positive in my life at the time. I was on the road with a bunch of men who were way older than me, that I had nothing in common with, in a fucking crappy van traveling around and having a terrible relationship. Being on stage was something that was almost religious for me. After someone constantly tells you that you’re not shit, and it’s something that you’ve heard a lot in your life, every single time you get onstage you’re like, ‘Oh yeah? Well I’ll fucking show you.’ And it is like that every time.”
“Human beings are so complex”
Her latest fuck you to the naysayers is “Suffer and Swallow”, the incendiary first track for her anticipated debut solo album. Aside from 2017s self-titled EP and a handful of singles, this record is set to be her defin- ing solo moment, and the single, with its triple drum beats, airy synths, and vocals beamed in from the great beyond, is some of the most introspective and personal music of her career. “This record has been a long time in the making, because I put a lot of pressure on myself,” explains Alice, referencing the songwriting process that brought her here. “I had a whole idea about an album being a statement, and what that statement was going to be. When I first started I was like, ‘should I start a girl band?’ I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, so I was defining what I wanted it to sound like as I was creating it. Now that the first installment of this world of cathartic pain is finished, I’m really relieved, honestly.”
That catharsis comes through in the music, and in a big way. Even back in Canada, where Alice is from and spent her life before Crystal Castles became the pio- neers of late-00s electronic punk, she was using her musical talent as a sort of psychic balm to soothe her raw emotions. “I suppose I’ve been making music since I was a teenager and it didn’t really get a lot of mental health treatment, music was a way to kind of express feelings that I couldn’t in real life. It’s kind of evolved from that. So I don’t think that I could write anything happy if I wanted to.”
Her earliest inklings that she could translate her feelings into music and song came after a bizarre, yet strangely life-affirming incident on a school bus in junior high, which she recounts in astounding detail.
“When I was a kid I got kicked off of the school bus, so I had to walk home by myself through ravines, and I would get really scared so I would just sing songs to myself. It would be like a mish mash of like pop music, and I guess I was watching MTV so I would just make up my own songs. It kind of came naturally.” What was the offense that got Alice unceremoniously banned from scholastic transport, you might ask? It’s almost defi- nitely not what you’re thinking. She laughs, but in a way that suggests that it’s not all that funny. “This boy stole my poetry award. It was pinned onto me, and my leather backpack got stuck in the emergency alarm, so it kept pulling when I went to grab the award from him, and I was so upset that I didn’t notice this was happening, so they thought for sure that I was doing it on purpose. I just have this really guilty face I think.”
Even the video for “Suffer and Swallow” deals with darkness and pain: a stop-animation doll version of Alice gets sucked into a dank underworld, left to cry and scream. “Since I’ve been writing songs, I think that about one in five have been written from an antago- nist’s perspective. I don’t know if it’s just like a kind of coping thing that I’ve done for this whole time, maybe it’s the same reason why women are the ones who tend to get more into true crime and like, horror mov- ies,” she says, before citing directors, fellow Canadian, David Cronenberg, and Italian Dario Argento as major influences — and of course, that classic 90s goth stal- wart, The Nightmare Before Christmas. “The video was shot by one of my best friends, Lucas David, who got deported to Mexico like four years ago, which sucks. He shot everything down there, the whole world was his vision. But I did do a cute stop-motion video in high school, and it was like me going to hell, which is kind of a narcissistic premise,” she laughs.
“It’s kind of weird”
The new album will be a watershed chapter in Alice’s story, that’s for sure. But for what it’s worth, she’s done defining herself, according to anyone’s expectations, including her own. “It’s kind of weird, I used to feel like I needed to do that, but now I totally don’t,” she says when I ask her about the pressures of establishing your- self as a solo artist. “Maybe it’s just because I’ve moved on and started writing other music, but I definitely feel more confident in not defining myself. Originally, the things I wanted to do were just a direct reflection of the things that I wasn’t allowed to do in my previous band. But now I don’t feel like I need to define myself by what I did or didn’t do. I’ve been the bad kid for a long time, and I got into punk rock thinking that I could do a bet- ter job than all of the frontmen in the local scene who treated me like shit. And I think I did.”